MT: Talking about the Drowned World Tour on the classic 2001 "Entertainment Design" interview you said that director Jamie King showed you hundreds of photographs and artistic renderings - things that were not necessarily related to the show, but ideas that he was drawing from.

We had a chance to talk to Jamie and learned how his work with Madonna is heavily inspired by the images he runs across, a sort of visual collection of different inspirations.
Which kind of images did he show you for the Drowned World Tour?


PM: He brought up some images that ended up actually being personified on stage, it's interesting. That was definitely a very heavy source of direction, a very definite source of direction which was priceless.
It was the biggest help of all.

He would bring up hundreds of photographs (laughs), I really mean hundreds.
I don't know where he went to find some of the stuff (laughs) but a lot of things actually became reality in the show and I can't specify any one image unfortunately but I do remember in Ray Of Light... I remember there were certain images that I took with me and studied them and actually "copied" them so that we could illuminate the same way.

We really ended up with some moments that could have been snapshots of those same photos and images he showed me originally.
I feel we went full circle on that. I've got some photos from that show that literally show the same feel if not the same imagery that he showed me initially. It's great working with Jamie that way because he has a great idea of images before he starts and that's important.

I've worked with set designers, choreographers, show directors in the past and they have no idea about what colours to use, how something should look, they only a feeling for it is they're doing specifically but not the end product.

Jamie has the entire end product in view from the beginning. Basically he just brought us all on board.

MT: Let's talk about the so-called "spaceship", the powerful element from the Drowned World Tour stage.
I understand that was a big challenge to deal with, can you tell us a bit more about it?


PM: Pretty much the entire stage was a challenge, the way Bruce Rodgers designed it was great. We had the flying to deal with and we had the scenary that moves and all this mechanism that went into putting the show on took up space and unfortunately lot of the time it was the space I needed for lighting.

I knew that the "spaceship" had to be a lighting element but it also had to be a scenic element so fortunately for the existence of that piece I was able to hang lights. It also had led pannels which was a great experiment. Most people are used to seen an unbroken seamless video wall and here we were taking images and presenting them on these small blocks of video. They weren't small images, it's hard to explain, it was like if you could fill the checker board over a video wall and take the black squares out, that was what missing.
And yet the eye connected these images and it was really magical. So it was a scenic piece, it was a video piece and it was a lighting structure at the same time.


MT: You also said that having weeks of physical rehearsals, without the stage gave you an opportunity to sit in and see Madonna run through things, so to start getting ideas and make changes as you went into the ongoing design of the system.

PM: Most of the time I feel I'm wasting my time and the artist's time and money to sit around in early dance rehearsals and watch them pick through some ideas and changes.


It's much more efficient for me to go and watch run throughs when they actually got it all together and they are just running it on a stage, so I get an idea of timing and so forth.

What I instinctively felt on this show, especially with the early introduction of all the images that Jamie showed me, I felt instinctively that it was important to be there at some of the early rehearsals and watch them as they grappled with some of the technical challenges of dancing especially the flying/fight scene.

I wanted to see how that was all put together because I started building ideas along with them in my own mind and essentially by the time it was finished and they were running it non stop I already had a fairly clear idea of what I wanted to do. It helped me a lot giving me a better understanding of what Jamie was trying to do.

MT: Did you have to work on speficic songs that didn't make the final setlist? I understand there were some changes made so does this affect your job?


PM: It doesn't really, certainly there are elements we put in the design that are specific for certain songs. If the song is taken out those elements are used elsewhere sometimes or sometimes they are taken away from the show.

The biggest issue is blending from one song to the other when you're computerizing lights you can't all of a sudden say: ok song's over, here's the first cue for the next song. 'Cause you will have light just flying out of nowhere to get to where they belong so you need to build blind links between songs so that the light can be pre set. Obviously with the automated fixtures that we use now they have multi-functions. So when they would change the order or pull songs it affects us techinically but that's what rehearsals are there for.


MT: There seemed to be many different types of light sources that have been used to light the Drowned World Tour?

PM: There were quite a few fixtures that had specific application in the show. We had a fixture, the 3000 watt Syncrolight, which are like search lights, and it was specific for the Samurai number when he was in the tree, we had a specific look for that and that light was there for that purpose only, this brings up an interesting moment.

When she was downstage center with him [Nobody's Perfect] I made a decision not to light that with any front light at all. That was entirely lit with back light or what I call three quarter back light. Nothing from the side, nothing from the front, all kind of siluette and that was my decision, I just had a feeling.


It was really dramatic and such a beautiful choreography I really wanted to see it without the spotlight.
I said to Jamie: I want to try it this way. And I told Madonna: Don't be alarmed I'll be giving it a try. And of course they love to experiment so it felt right in line with everything. So there is no front light on her in that number and I brought it to life.

MT: In the Drowned World Tour programming had a strong role in the way the music was played on stage.
How did this affect the way you control the various lighting devices? How was setting up the various timelines like?

PM: Well this brings us back to one of the previous questions where I was saying that the element of music is very important in all of her shows.

When I program I don't like using a music cd, I like using a live video recording of the rehearsals with her especially because ok, if I was lighting a band all I need is a cd because we are lighting the music.


But the interesting challenge with Madonna is that we're not only lighting the music but we're lighting the visual reality of what's going on on stage at the same time so I need it all in front of me and as the music would edit that would have a large effect on us because we obviosly lit per the music per the choruses.

And all that was put together as a pieces of a puzzle. All of a sudden they took four bars of music off, so we had to lose four bars of lighting and we had to tie the other two together in such a way it looked seamless.
So it was as big challenge for us as I'm sure it was for the musicians when they had to do musical changes.


MT: Did you happen to follow the shows on the road as lighting director as well or your envolvement ended once the tours were ready to start?

: Yes, Blond Ambition I stayed on as lighting director, in Who's that girl I did not stay on but I came out and directed the show, the video shoot for television we did in Turin...

MT: The main part of the dvd comes from that footage actually...

PM: The unfortunate part of that evening was that I was brought in to re-do it but it was only a week's notice so in reality I felt there were a lot of blue sense in the live shoot that would not have been there had I had more time with it but not being on the tour that time had its effect.

Then, there's the Girlie Show. The Girlie Show I did not tour with. Now, lately when I do a show I go out for a month or three to four weeks and make sure everything is seamless and then I can leave. Girlie show was the same thing, I got involved again when we shot it for video in Australia, and I was involved of course with the television shoot for Blond Ambition too.

On Drowned World I stayed with it for a few weeks and then left it in the hands of the lighting director, that was in Europe. When it came back to the Us, I came back out for about a couple of weeks just to make sure everything was seamless on it because we were changing types of stages, and adjust technical problems.
Then I would go out about once a month with it and just check on it and of course when we went to camera again I was there for that.

MT: So you had the chance to "experience" Madonna fans in many concerts...

: Well the best thing about her fans is that the event of the Madonna concert begins the moment the doors open.
I think the entertainment begins the minute the doors open because she has some fans that are so die hard that it's a show in itself when they come in and of course the energy begins, again, the moment the doors open and it doesn't end until the last person leaves the building. I can't say enough about it.

Madonna shows are 100% as far as energy but you have another 100% over that with the fans. It's unlike any other shows I've ever worked on, I mean I've done Michael Jackson and many more but Madonna has the most dedicated core of fans that know her music inside out and want to be surprised yet never are because no matter what she does to surprise them they expect it.
They go right along with her, they take the ride right with her, it's just wonderful. And you know it's interesting because with Drowned World we were on the road a week and there were people in different countries coming in and they knew what to look for.


The word was out and some of them just traveled through Europe to see the show every night. The most dedicated group of fans I've ever seen and those who aren't dedicated but are just casual fans who come to see the show when it's in their area it's the same energy.

: Is there a difference between fans in Europe and fans in the US?

PM: A big difference and I can't explain it. It's funny we actually had different areas of response between the two continents. When we were in Europe we got used to the crowd's response in a certain way and it was wonderful. I can't remember any particular moment but I do know when we came to the Us we had
just as energetic response but it would come at different moments of the songs. It's very interesting, they just reacted differentely depending on where you were. Very true.

MT: Working on the Blond Ambition Tour you were also in charge of the ligthing of the footage Alek Keshishian filmed for the "Truth or Dare" documentary.
How was that experience like?

: It was great, when they first started with the archival cameras which followed us on tour they said "we're shooting behind the scene footage that will be put into a film" we all felt she had lost her mind (laughs).

We were all out there trying to be natural in front of the cameras while we were trying to do our work but obviously always aware of cameras looking at us.

One of my favourite scenes I should have been in got dropped.
The producer at the time called me one day saying "I want you to know one of my favourite scene got dropped from the black and white documentary footage" which is when we had our opening in Japan and in one of our first rehearsals in front of a partial audience, the first rehearsal with spotlights, we had a meeting in her dressing room right afterwards and it was a bit of a disaster (laughs).

There she confronted me and said "Peter what is going on with the spotlight? What is the story there?" and I replied "Japanese, they don't understand me!, I know a little Japanese but not enough".

She said: "Ah... ok, what will you do about that? What about an interpreter?" I said "well by the time the interpreter arrives..." you know it was a fun discussion, everyone was laughing.
They loved the scene but it got dropped.

The fun part of working with Alek was that he was there the entire time as was I so when he was developing his ideas for the live shoot in Paris, he would sit and talk to me about things he needed to change or alter for the film shoot.

The magic of that shoot is the fact we shot it on 35 millimiter film and that's what made that so rich. To me, my favourite footage of anything I've been involved in, is that footage, because of the use of film opposed to video.


We had some scary moments on Drowned World and it was all due to video. Film is so much more forgiving and it has a richer feel.

MT: Was the whole show shot on 35 mm film?

PM: I'd love to see some of that footage that wasn't use. Because obviously only pieces were used.
You know, the entire show is shot in 35mm and the irony is that it was never released and I think that it was probably one of the most beautifully shot shows.
The director of photography was brilliant. His name is Toby Philips. He did the Girlie Show also. He's incredible.
We did also shoot on video the show live from Nice for HBO...


: Yes, the Nice show was later released on Laserdisc in the US and Europe. And now fans are longing for the Blond Ambition to finally come out on Dvd...
By the way, did you have to change a lot of things in lighting for the tv broadcast or video shoot?

PM: With Girlie Show we started using live video, so the advantage to that is that we were already lighting for camera with the start of the tour. There's a distinctive difference between live lighting and what works on camera.
In Blond Ambition when we were getting ready to shoot the live video in Nice I spent three 12 hour nights with the video lighting director, going cue by cue and changing looks that would contamine her face or put a pattern on her face, you know cleaning all the stage looks so that whatever she moved she was consistently the same.
Exactly the same for close ups.
In film you don't have to do that, because film is totally different, it's much warmer. Video is very difficult because it's one thing when we have one or two cameras on her on a tour but all of a sudden we have 14 cameras and all those different angles.
We have to cover all those problems that arise when a camera is shooting from behind or on the sides.


You know what might look good when you're looking at her on the front might not look that well if you look behind her. So we have to come up with ways to make that effect happen without looking so bad on her. So video is a challenge, we have to get our lighting levels balanced and it changes the show considerably.

MT: Both the Blond Ambition Tour and Girlie Show concerts gave you the chance to win an ACE Award as Director of Photography and Lighting Design and Direction. What are your memories of being awarded for your work on them?

: It was a high point, I since won an emmy too but the ACE was the first thing I ever won.
To be honest with you, it just felt right to get it for Blond Ambition (laughs) because when we got it I was shocked, I was happy, Alan and I both won it, but I understood it, because I really knew we've done a good job and it wasn't just us, it was that whole picture that was presented from the artist going down, that's what I felt on that tour that I don't feel with many other tours, and again on Girlie Show, the magic about that tour was the fact that we were really getting progressive and different and challanging with her looks and everything.

I felt we nailed that one too and that was again a great honour. It really was. But listen, whatever I won I appreciate, I like to think it's for my work but it wouldn't have meant anything without her being there, without her music and the set designer who did the great set. It all comes together, they all deserve a piece of that award.


MT: In your star-filled carrer, you had a chance to work with an amount of incredible artists and musicians.
On the Ricky Martin "Livin' La Vida Loca" tour you teamed up with great talents and professionals you worked again with in the future. How was the Ricky Martin tour experience like, and how is working with Jamie King, Bruce Rodgers and Dago Gonzàlez?

: Jamie [King] and I worked together before that but in different roles when he was Michal Jackson's stand in. On the Dangerous tour he was one of his lead dancers and we did some magic gags and he became Michael Jackson a couple of times so that Michael could magically appear elsewhere.

So we worked together there but certainly not in the role we worked together on as lighting designer and show director. So that was Ricky Martin which was the first time. It was interesting because I never worked with Jamie in that role and we just felt together like pieces of a puzzle, it was just natural and Dago is brilliant and Bruce.

What I can say is that it was a really happy family. Dago, Jamie and I worked on a show in Vegas called Storm. I've always been comfortable with Jamie, we get along great, we had great time together and I think we got the point where we had unwritten comunication, unspoked communication.

We've done several shows together, Christina Aguilera and a couple of other things.


: Let's talk about the importance of videos in live shows. I think Drowned World Tour was the real turning point in this trend. The screens were already huge but there was still space for strong lighting. It's slowly evolved and video is taking a major role all of a sudden in the forefront...

: That's true. In shows I've been working on recently and one I'm working on for December videos have a very important role. I just think is a natural evolution as technology improves it will be used more and more. In fact I see the day when video might become our writing source.
First of all I think video was used brilliantly in the Drowned World Tour, those beautiful images by Dago and Jamie complemented the show.


When they come and shoot it for broadcast it's natural that the director knows he's not there to shoot a wide shot, he's there to shoot close ups cause the average person sitting in his living room at home wants to see Madonna not necessarely see the whole big set, they make reference to it now and then.

Unfortunately editing back and forth, showing you the wide shot now and then but mostly close ups they miss a lot of the magic that we as general spectators come to expect. It's a whole different show when it's shot for camera.

The more I think about I think Alek [Keshishian] captured a show as whole more than anybody else.
I saw that Drowned World came close but... You know we get so intimate with the show, we know the magical moments and yet all of a sudden they cut to a close up we miss one of those moments on camera

And people who see that on disc will never really know the real show.


It's two different shows and it's fustrating for those of us who work with the live environment to see that because it just never comes out quite the same. Too bad but I don't really see a solution to that.

: One of the biggest events of the summer is Live 8 on July 2 with several simultaneos concerts around the world, I was wondering, is it hard to light a day-light show and achieve good results?

PM: I'm not involved with Live 8 but generally speaking it amazes me how many of these stadiums are built with the stage looking right into the sun (laughs).

It's an on-going problem. Certainly you can take any show and put it on in broad daylight and it's a whole different show than it is obviously under lights. I don't now how they are going to deal with that on Live 8, I imagine they are going to get a little bit of darkness on everybody.
I didn't see how it is scheduled but they are going to be performing simultaneously so the evening in Europe is going to be afternoon here. They have to make sure everyone is covered by cameras instead of going for "drama". But you know, there is very little drama in those kind of shows.
These shows are really for grand display, the artists are all there celebrating and raising money...


MT: And the crowd...

: You know what, you have a good point right there, I'd say 75% of the energy from those shows is the crowd.

: And you also had the chance to lit what is probably the Madonna concert with most people, the Who's That Girl tour in Paris at the Parc de Sceaux, with 120.000 people...

: Well that's a piece of history and I'm proud to be a part of it.

: Peter, what are you currently working on?

PM: I had a busy year, this last year I did Prince, Usher and Bette Middler.
I have to say that's quite a range there. Usher is great.

MT: And he got you another award...

PM: Yeah... And currently I'm on vacation for a month and half and then I'm starting working for Disney.
I'm doing a couple of their Ice shows and there's a couple of tours in discussion for the fall which I'm not allowed to talk about because of confidentiality.
As soon there's a signature on contract I can divulge but I'm not allowed 'til then.
But no tours in the summer at all. I'll be doing Disney on Ice and the Ringley Brothers Circus which is a nice change from concerts, it's more theatrical, a whole different world.

MT: Is there an artist right now you would like to work with? Maybe someone you didn't have the chance to work with before, I know it's hard to find one you did not lit yet but you never know...

PM: Yes, there is one and she's Annie Lennox, I would die to work for Annie Lennox. And Peter Gabriel if he ever chooses to tour again. These are my dream artists I think.
It has always been a goal to work with them. There are others of course. I had a huge pleasure working with Melissa Etheridge a few times and I'd like to do that again.

Prince was a dream come true this year and that was wondeful. Probably he is one of the most difficult individuals I've ever had to work with but brilliant. A very interesting character (laughs) but you know the years with Madonna prepared me for that (laughs).

And it's true, people would "Prince is on a rampage today" and I'd say "I've seen rampages before" (laughs).

Actually to be honest with you the years with Madonna prepared me for Prince (laughs) on a one to one level.
If I couldn't work with Madonna this year Prince was a natural alternative, it was just great.

MT: Peter it was great to have you on MadonnaTribe. Thanks a lot for sharing your knowledge, experience and tour stories with all our readers.

Best of Luck for all your future projects.

PM: It was a pleasure.


Back to Part One


Be sure to check out everything about Peter Morse at his official website

Copyright 2005 MadonnaTribe
Pictures courtesy of Peter Morse used by permission.


Idol is presented by